November 26th, 2013
I have been collecting notes for a series of sermons next year about Christians that I have been fortunate enough to know.
One of these was the Rev. Canon Edward West, Sub-Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Although an eccentric, mystic, and altogether unforgettable character, Canon West was also shrewd in the ways of the world.
Particularly in the ways of the Church in the world. He once remarked to me, “Bishops always get what they want.” At the time we spoke, I was serving in a very successful parish whose rector seemed to be able to function with great independence from any higher authority. And I knew that in the Episcopal Church, great power also resides in local vestries, which control their money and have the lion’s share of authority in appointing their rectors.
Yet we are seeing in our own diocese the truth of Canon West’s observation. The indaba program of dialogue would never have gotten started without a powerful and sustained push from the top. In the near future, I imagine parishes in New York and its suburbs will be closed or merged that seemed to be immortal. And whoever happens to be elected Suffragan Bishop of New York on December 7, the diocesan Bishop’s policies will prevail.
“Episcopal” comes from the Greek word for “bishop.” It is no wonder that this is the name of our church. –J. Douglas Ousley
November 4th, 2013
I am sorry to have been delinquent in posting, but I do have a rare solid excuse: I got married!
Anyway, my honeymoon is over and the church political scene has become very active locally. I haven’t been following closely the Suffragan Election slated for December 7, because the candidate I have wanted from the beginning is among the finalists. I’ll report soon on how the election is proceeding.
Meanwhile, the first regular Convention of the Diocese of New York is on for this Saturday, November 9. So far, budget and clergy compensation seem to be the only issues (nice, outward, evangelistic subjects, those.) Plus small group discussions called “Indaba,” which will provide another alternative to doing something about the church-wide decline. May the Good Lord inspire us, nevertheless. –J. Douglas Ousley
September 18th, 2013
The latest talk in high Episcopal circles is about “new mission direction.”
A colleague of mine told an anecdote that illustrated the problems with old mission direction. He was visiting a Navaho reservation this summer as part of his own outreach work (he is part Native American himself), and a truck drove up to the house where he was staying and delivered two huge boxes. One contained a vast quantity of Reese’s Pieces, the other held stuffed animals.
The delivery turned out to be the product of an Eagle Scout’s project to help the Indians–though they had not been consulted, and though some 65% of that tribe was diabetic! The truck had driven past two large No Trespassing signs. The person with whom my friend was staying remarked, “See what we have to put up with?”
The trend now seems to be to involve the people to be helped directly and to hold them accountable for the decisions they have made on their own behalf. That would be sweeter than Reese’s Pieces. –J. Douglas Ousley
August 27th, 2013
On Sunday, I appeared on the local cable news channel, New York 1. This summer, we sponsored a contest to develop decorations for the sidewalk shed that protects the public from deteriorating stonework. We wanted in effect to turn the ugly scaffold into a billboard to publicize the church and its programs; as the reporter for NY1 remarked, “turning a lemon into lemonade.”
The entries have just been submitted by graphic artists studying at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. Further details about the project, video, and the winning designs will be available on the church website.
This happy event reminds us that Madison Avenue is still a famous street, even though most of the ad agencies are scattered all over the city. It also reminds us how our location is a plus. Though we are landmark in a prominent area and thus will have to pay a premium to fix our spire–still, we are a landmark in a prominent spot. We should be grateful for that.
This publicity was gained through the auspices of a PR firm. Thus our effort to gain publicity for the church itself led to good publicity for Incarnation. A multiplying effect, like loaves and fishes. –J. Douglas Ousley
August 20th, 2013
I have warned in a previous note that New York is becoming a theme park for tourists, at the expense of those who live and work here. The closing of streets and intersections for weird public “spaces” and the endless parades and street fairs were examples I noted. Visitors may benefit; New Yorkers pay the price.
The trend is becoming more pronounced. City-financed bicycles are now being ridden by tourists who don’t know that it is illegal and dangerous to pedestrians to ride on sidewalks. The public areas in Times Square and Madison Square are now being rented out to fast food vendors, depriving the public of those spaces that already increased vehicular traffic. Or they are allocated to businesses that are making promotions or hosting performances. On Monday at 8 a.m., I saw commuters actually walking in the street in Times Square because the sidewalks and “public” spaces were filled by some event.
We who are part of the living New York community are happy for tourist dollars. But we don’t want our city to become like Venice or even London–a place for tourists and rich second-home owners. We love our city and want to keep it livable. –J. Douglas Ousley
August 13th, 2013
The horrific train crash in Spain carried many travelers who were making the traditional pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. As a recent book by a former assistant at Incarnation points out, pilgrimage is an important part of every religion, and it is as popular today as it has ever been. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook’s Pilgrimage: A Sacred Art also details the spiritual benefits of seeking holy places. As Kujawa-Holbrook says, this search is “a journey to the center of the heart.”
Even those who aren’t vacationing can think about the places we consider sacred. I know a group that regularly meets for coffee that still bemoans the loss of the French coffee bar where they began meeting. The place has been closed for years (when it was open, the service was atrocious!)–yet it was for members of the group a kind of sacred space because it was where they were together every week.
Central Park is one of my places of pilgrimage in the city; I would also add a few spots where I can walk along the Hudson. These places remind us that we are always on a journey toward the destiny God has for us. –J. Douglas Ousley
August 2nd, 2013
I just attended my first official and legal same-sex wedding. Three things of note:
First, the order was virtually the same as for previous Prayer Book weddings. With a few edits, the Book of Common Prayer liturgy did just fine. No need for “special services;” marriage equality is not all that hard to put into words.
Second, several observers remarked on how “traditional” the service was, compared to many write-your-own-vows weddings. Traditionalists should be pleased.
Third and finally, the congregation was 80-90% heterosexual or children, and yet there was a universal sense of freedom and liberation and a step forward for everyone. –J. Douglas Ousley
July 22nd, 2013
First, it shouldn’t amaze me but it does that the Wall Street Journal sends out urgent emails to update me on the progress of the birth of the new heir to the throne. Can we look forward to a live broadcast of the royal son’s baptism? However moribund the Church of England sometimes seems, our spiritual motherland still makes news.
Second, declining though it may be, the C of E doesn’t lack imaginative clergy posts. A recent Church Times carried a letter from a member of the Ascot Racecourse Chaplaincy Service; the priest was pictured in clericals and top hat.
A more substantive letter asked for the General Synod to address the gender imbalance in many churches, which often runs 3 to 1 in favor of women. As the author points out, if the balance went the other way, “we would rightly want to address such an imbalance.” This pries holds the interesting title of Diocesan Missioner for Unreached Men in the Diocese of Oxford. –J. Douglas Ousley
July 10th, 2013
When I was in high school in the 1960′s, I came across William Buckley’s wide-read book, God and Man at Yale, which decried the secular culture of the university Buckley had attended. As it happened, I went on to attend Yale myself and was an officer in the Yale Christian Union. In those years there were a couple of other small Protestant groups plus Catholic and Jewish congregations.
It is interesting, then, that decades later, while church attendance has declined nationwide, Christian groups are flourishing at Yale and other Ivy League campuses. The Ivy League Christian Observer, a 50 page quarterly magazine, gives news of countless groups, missions, lectures, journals, and activities sponsored by Christian students.
As it also happened, I met William Buckley while I was in a political organization at Yale, and I encountered him a few other times later when I moved to New York City. He surely would be pleased that, these days, God seems quite welcome at his alma mater. –J. Douglas Ousley